Check out the ‘whitewater Porsche’

The "Joshua Tree" at Saddle Canyon.

Unique new two-person dory gets christened in the Grand Canyon

Back in January we introduced you to Justin Gallen at Raindog Boatworks. Justin, a newer member of the extremely small custom dory-building world, let us follow along as he designed and built what amounts to my dream boat.

A design that, while not silly, is certainly on the fringes of what most folks would call their idea of a “dream boat.”

This is a design I had thought about many times, but do not have the skillset to design or the chops to build. I’ve looked for plans, quizzed other boat builders about what it would cost to create from scratch, and asked if anyone had ever seen anything like this. Basically, I had no luck at all. People looked at me like I had two heads.

Now… there are Doryaks… like Fretwater Boat works builds, basically single-person, whitewater dories. Justin builds these too but it takes a special kind of need and want to decide to build a ten-and-a-half-foot wooden dory for TWO that is fully decked—one that you could flip without sinking. It takes specific building skills to shoehorn that second passenger in such a small boat.

Justin’s design is basically a whitewater Porsche that you can fish out of. At least that’s what I’m gonna call it. (He’s calling it the “Gunnimoon,” a name I believe is the marriage of the river he lives on, the Gunnison in Colorado, and a play on the word “honeymoon.”)

About six weeks ago, Justin hurriedly finished his prototype. Why hurriedly? Well, it turns out that someone had a Grand Canyon permit burning a hole in their pocket and Justin thought it would be a perfect proving ground for the new design. Yeah, he’s that kind of guy… The kind of guy who builds a new boat design from scratch and tests it in the Big Ditch.

Below, we have the final chapter of the story of this super-unique mini-dory in Justin’s own words. If you’re a dory geek… you’re gonna freak.

Hey all. Sorry to leave you in the dark for so long.  We have a lot of good things to talk about!  I’ll get right to it.  The “Gunnimoon” is done!  On top of that, it has already completed its maiden voyage, a 20 day trip down the Grand Canyon.  I’m deliriously in love with this little boat and how well it performs on the river.  

I believe I left off just before the bronze casting.  My friend and fellow boat builder Charlie Gagne of Headwater Dories let me borrow his foundry to cast some hardware (washers, bow and stern eyes).  

After some fairing and sanding, it came time to slap some paint on.  If you’re going to paint a boat, you better be using George Kirby’s marine paint.  There’s nothing better.  I decided to highlight the paint with some reflective pinstripe.  Turns out when the sunlight reflected off the water hits that pinstripe, it electrifies the whole boat and makes it come to life.  Something to be witnessed in real life, photos won’t do it justice.

It was a scramble to the finish line after that.  Built the oar towers, installed the plumbing and wiring for the bilge pump, built some oars, had to modify my trailer to accomodate a bigger boat, touch up a few things on my single person “Doryak” and pack for a 20 day Grand Canyon trip.  It was a madhouse here for those last few days, but eventually my buddy John Powell and I got everything loaded and headed on down to Flagstaff.  Our destination was my old stomping grounds at Fretwater Boatworks to say hi to my old friends Brad Dimock and Cricket Rust.

I needed help with a few last minute things, primarily painting the lettering for the names of the boats.  The Doryak is “Raindog,” being the flagship of Raindog Boatworks, and the Gunnimoon is “Joshua Tree,” named after the national park and wild looking plant found in the Mojave desert.  Cricket offered to work her magic and hand paint the names on for me.  Her dog Banjo was quite helpful as well.

It was nice getting the band back together for a little bit at Fretwater Boatworks.  Brad’s shop is where I learned how to build these crazy little boats, and though my time there was only a brief 5 years, I have a lot of great memories working with him, Cricket, and some of the others that came through to help over that time.  The name for my shop comes from the Tom Waits album “Raindogs,” which was often played on repeat when I worked there.  I could not have done any of this without Brad and Cricket’s support.  They were both quite pleased with how the “Gunnimoon” turned out, Brad describing the feeling of seeing it as “meeting his grandkid for the first time.”

Ok… now for the really exciting part.  With everything done on the Gunnimoon, the only thing left to do was to take her down the Grand Canyon.  One thing that became quite clear is that the boat is extremely trim sensitive.  If you’re going to have a passenger in the front, load the back hatch up with some heavy stuff to counter their weight and keep the boat riding level.  I was able to fit all the gear, food, and drinks that I needed for a 20 day trip, and still have a passenger ride along for all the rapids.  The Gunnimoon’s performance in the famous big water of Grand Canyon exceeded my expectations.  It rises over the waves in classic dory fashion, and will get going pretty darn quickly when you start rowing.  One thing I was particularly pleased with is how much primary stability it has.  Its width gives you a lot of security side to side, which helps when taking glancing or sideways hits from waves, as well as standing on deck and walking around.  I’m going to have a hard time wanting to take any other boat on the river from here on out.

After washing the boat and letting it dry out at home for a while, we also tested out the Gunnimoon’s low water abilities in its namesake river.  The Gunnison was running about 620 cfs, and I can say that the boat could go at lower flows.  Granted this was on the town run, which is pretty mellow, but it’s good to know that the Gunnimoon has a wide range of flows that it can run.  

Well.  That’s about all I got for now.  I started building another Gunnimoon for a client pretty much as soon as I got back from the canyon.  I’m hoping as the years go on, I get to see more of these boats out there in the world.  Thanks for following along with the build of this crazy little experiment.